The Growing U.S.-Kazakhstan Partnership: Why it Matters
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Ambassador Umarov, distinguished guests, thank you for the opportunity to speak briefly about why the U.S.-Kazakhstan relationship matters and how we see that relationship growing in the future. But first, let me thank the Kazakhstani Embassy and the Turkic American Alliance for hosting this event, as well as all the other sponsors who have helped provide a forum to discuss this important topic.
I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving in Kazakhstan as U.S. Ambassador, and now that I am back in Washington I have the opportunity to help build an even stronger partnership between our countries. The United States was the first to recognize Kazakhstan’s independent and sovereign nationhood after independence in 1991. From that time onwards, we have seen Kazakhstan as an increasingly significant partner in many areas, not the least of which are in matters of economics and global security.
Looking back over the past two decades, it is easy to see that Kazakhstan has consistently overcome the challenges it has faced. But at the moment of independence, Kazakhstan’s future success was not at all predestined. It was a landlocked state that had not at all been seeking the independence that history unexpectedly thrust upon it. In the immediate wake of independence, Kazakhstan’s national leadership made three fundamental decisions that have paid off increasingly handsomely: 1) to pursue fundamental economic reforms, 2) to give up the fourth-largest nuclear arsenal in the world, and 3) to give highest priority to educating a new generation to ensure that Kazakhstan would eventually take its rightful place on the world stage.
Kazakhstan’s early and comprehensive economic reforms have made it an increasingly important economic partner to the United States. American firms such as General Electric and Chevron have been trustworthy partners with Kazakhstani firms. GE Transportation is working on an important joint venture to enlarge a diesel locomotive manufacturing plant and establish a diesel engine plant in Astana that will increasingly serve rail, marine, and stationary power customers throughout the region. Kazakhstan’s smart investments in railways and roads can be a game changer in world trade and will serve as part of the infrastructure backbone of the New Silk Road. When a shipment can move from a Chinese factory to the Ruhr Valley in Germany in 15 days by rail via Kazakhstan (versus the 45 days it takes to send a shipment by sea) that overturns many assumptions about trade flows. It also puts a premium on developing the sort of joint transportation and logistical projects that foreign investors will be interested in and that can take advantage of these trade volumes. The U.S. government plans to send a high-powered trade delegation to Kazakhstan in the coming year.
Kazakhstan’s openness to economic partnership with the United States has helped the country achieve the highest per-capita foreign investment among members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. U.S. interest in the Kazakh economy will only increase as Kazakhstan finalizes its WTO accession. As Kazakhstan continues to develop a sound regime of intellectual property rights, introduces WTO and OECD standards, and ensures the even application of laws and regulations, investment in a broad range of sectors outside of energy should grow.
SECURITY AND NONPROLIFERATION
Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, U.S. policymakers worried about the fate of nuclear weapons and weapons-grade material in the newly independent states. Due to the Soviet history of nuclear testing on their soil, Kazakhstanis understood all too well the scourge of nuclear weapons. Concerned citizens, with Ambassador Umarov prominent among them, organized the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement in the last years of the Soviet Union, and, drawing on popular sentiments, urged both Soviet and American leaders to work toward a nuclear-free world. Their movement set the tone for independent Kazakhstan’s leadership in nonproliferation. Shortly after independence, Kazakhstan gave up its nuclear arsenal – the fourth largest in the world at the time – and asserted its firm commitment to the nonproliferation of all weapons of mass destruction, whether nuclear or biological.
Here, too, the U.S.-Kazakhstan partnership has proven its worth. For instance, in 2010, our two countries, with the assistance of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom, transported highly enriched uranium and plutonium from the closed BN-350 nuclear reactor in Aktau to a secure long-term storage facility. This move insured that the fissile material in question --sufficient to make hundreds of nuclear weapons – could never fall into the wrong hands. I was present at that new storage facility for the opening ceremony – and I will never forget the deep emotion of that moment. The world had become a safer place.
In working together on non-proliferation over two decades, our two nations have developed a strong mutual trust that serves as a foundation for many other cooperative efforts in international security. To cite a recent example, Kazakhstan’s hosting of the P5+1 talks on Iran earlier this year was key in the international community’s efforts to reach a tentative diplomatic solution to the issue of Tehran’s nuclear program.
To be a successful new country requires a new generation of leaders who think in new ways. This simple but fundamental insight led Kazakhstan to establish the Bolashak program that has educated abroad – in the United States, in Europe, and in Asia – hundreds and hundreds of Kazakhstani students who have already risen to leadership positions in the public and private sectors.
We share Kazakhstan’s commitment to develop its human capital. We are proud to have hosted hundreds of Kazakhstani students who have since returned to serve their country. Similarly, through their partnership with Nazarbayev University in Astana, American universities such as the University of Pennsylvania, Duke University, and the University of Wisconsin have worked with Kazakhstani educational leaders to broaden the availability of high-level instruction in Kazakhstan. The focus is on critical thinking with the goal of a knowledge-based economy by 2050.
Of course it is one thing to educate – it is another to ensure that an education is put to good use. Through its on-going civil service reform, Kazakhstan is reducing the influence of patronage in its government-appointee system, creating a merit-based senior executive service whose members have passed a rigorous examination process. The Civil Service Agency has signed an MOU with our own Office of Personnel Management, and a class of new senior civil servants will be spending a semester in the United States, partly at Duke University and partly at OPM’s Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville. Through this and other ventures, the United States remains committed to continuing to work with Kazakhstan to foster democracy and good governance.
There’s so much more I could mention, including Kazakhstan’s commitment to Afghanistan to ensure peace, stability, and prosperity in the region. Let me conclude simply by saying that I hope I’ve begun to make clear why this growing partnership matters and why it will certainly continue to grow and continue to matter.